The Five Ages of Star Trek: Day Two, 1977 to 1986

To finish out the 50th, TrekMovie’s Jared Whitley examines the franchise’s five-decade history, dividing them by the classical “Ages of Man” – Golden Age, Silver Age, etc – but with an appropriately Trek twist. Today he looks at its second decade and the exploding movie franchise.

As the 50th anniversary winds down, we’re looking at the various periods of Trek history, decade by decade. Yesterday, we looked at Trek’s Golden Age that included The Original Series, The Animated Series, and the start of the convention experience. We called it the Dilithium Age. Today we’re looking at Trek’s second decade.

Silver Age: 1977 to 1986

It would still be a few years until the crew would warp back into action with The Motion Picture, but the Silver Age would begin just a few months after the launch of the Space Shuttle Enterprise. It’s not an installment of the Star Trek franchise, but the franchise probably wouldn’t exist without it: Star Wars hitting theaters in May 1977. As Leonard Nimoy says in I Am Spock: “Thank you, George Lucas.”

The unprecedented success of the space adventure story spurred the desire for probably more sci-fi copycats in the late ’70s/early ’80s – and of course the most (ahem) logical copycat was one that already had legions of fans.

The Silver Age includes less content than any of the other four – The Motion Picture, Wrath of Khan, Search for Spock, and Voyage Home – but the quality of those installments gave the franchise much-needed legitimacy with wider audiences. TMP got three Academy Award nominations while Voyage Home got four. The age also gave Klingons head ridges.



More importantly, these four movies injected a ton of cash into Star Trek. Inflation adjusted, the average box office for those four is $240 million domestic. (Remember the international box office wasn’t as important back then.) Combined with expanded success in syndication, conventions, and merchandising, and suddenly Star Trek wasn’t just for guys in their moms’ basements.

With more people seeing Star Trek than ever before, and to honor what many still see as the highlight of the entire franchise, we call this period the Transparent Aluminum Age. Rather than ending the age with The Voyage Home, though, I think this age ended when Shatner hosted Saturday Night Live a month later and gave his in/famous “Get a Life” speech … to a bunch of guys in their moms’ basements.

Not only was Star Trek becoming more famous, but so too was its leading man. Also T.J. Hooker happened.


Transparent Aluminum Age

  • Start: May 1977
  • End: Dec. 1986
  • Episodes: 0
  • Movies: 4

Return tomorrow when we enter Trek’s Bronze Age!

Read the rest of the 5 Ages of Trek:
The 5 Ages of Trek – Day 1
The 5 Ages of Trek – Day 3
The 5 Ages of Trek – Day 4
The 5 Ages of Trek – Day 5
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I just bought TJ Hooker Seasons One and Two for $5.99 on Amazon. Truly classic Shatner there…sliding across car hoods.

I would have loved to have been a kid in 80s. Was it really as good as it looked?!

Yes, yes it was.

The 80’s were a great time for certain niche things like “Star Trek” and Pro Wrestling to name two.

But for TV and movies in general …It was for the most part very cheesy…and not in a good way.

Like most TV shows from the 1980s it was corny, cheesy, badly written and even more cringe-inducing when you re-watch it now.

Wasn’t bad. But 70s was much better, honestly.

Early 70s movies are just so much better as a rule than any other decade or half-decade … just rewatched THE CANDIDATE last night for the first time in decades, the thing had a brain in its head and was funny too. Not to overgeneralize, but post-STAR WARS, stuff didn’t necessarily have to be smart AND entertaining, and more often than not failed at both.

The ’70s were much, much worse, with a pessimism and distrust of the government in the aftermath of Watergate, the failure in Vietnam, rampant inflation, the OPEC oil embargo and ending with the Iranian hostage crisis and the incredibly ineffective Carter presidency.

And there was Disco. God help us, Disco. The ’80s were paradise in comparison.

All that stuff you cite as negatives (except disco, and leisure suits and the horror that was 70s furniture) were what made it such interesting times.

I spent the 80s the way I expect to spend the next few years, waiting for the nukes to fly.

I could stand much less interesting times, then! Don’t worry about nukes when you have to worry about the guy at the next table in your restaurant pulling out an Uzi and recreating a scene from The latest uber-violent TV show or movie.

The Uzi thing is like plane crashes — statistically insignificant. We may not have gotten down to defcon 2 more than a couple of times, but the fact we get there at all should be the warning that something has to change and stay changed, lest we lose the whole kit & kaboodle.

(to be honest, I spend more time worrying I am going to get centerpunched or rear-ended by some idiot who is either texting and driving or talking on the phone with their device in hand, their own arm hiding the view of my car as they blindly change lanes into the one I’m occupying. I think cops oughta be able to confiscate and arrest anytime they see somebody holding a device while driving.)


Re: spend more time worrying I am going to get centerpunched or rear-ended by some idiot

Then 2017 is the year for you. New California state cell law makes it illegal to hold one or touch one on the seat while driving. Has to be in a cradle mounted on the dash. Only two taps in a row allowed for map anticipated interactions, three or more gets a traffic citation. The weird thing is the severity of the punishment/fine is left up to the various counties. I believe Kern is only $100 and Orange is mandatory traffic school.

Also self-driving cars just passed a milestone: Tesla’s autopilot predicted that an accident that hadn’t happened yet was going to happen and hit its brakes avoiding what came to pass before its human driver touched the brake pedal in response to it.

Me? I’m wondering what kind of world it will be when the autopilot gets good enough to decide that it can lessen the impact of impending collisions of other vehicles or somehow stop them?

That makes me wish I could afford to move back to CA, but even living outside Portland, we’re getting priced out with the rents (apparently PORTLANDIA triggered a huge migration of folks from NY to this area.) I’ve cut my driving back to the point where I barely log 4000 miles per year, so I hope that will reduce the chance of my being victimized by idiot drivers, but there are obviously no guarantees.


Re: pulling out an Uzi

You do realize that we’ve been there and survived that, multi-round weapons fire, during prohibition and advanced to the next age? The automatic multi-round nuke missile fire thing just hasn’t happened, yet, and way doubtful there’ll be a here here to move into the next age after. So as automatic weapon threats go, nukes trump uzis.

Terrorism isn’t anything new. Read up on the anarchists and how their bombs and assassinations some hold responsible for ultimately igniting two world wars.


Yes it was. Culturally, we had the fun of watching The A-Team – freelancers who sorted out corporatist bullies and corrupt government agents – the first season and a half of Airwolf where a test pilot wouldn’t trust the government with a super weapon and only used when he felt it was right. TJ Hooker. Manimal. Automan. Knight Rider. More than anything, it was an optimistic, go-getter era. The shows reflected that: they were often cheesy and silly, but Twin Peaks hadn’t arrived at that point to begin moving television shows to the position of cultural preeminence they now hold. The lack of sophistication reflects the lower expectations people had of television as a format at the time.

It was the era of the best Star Trek movies; the era where the names Steven Spielberg or George Lucas or ILM on the credits in any capacity on a film was a guarantee of being entertained, even if the film wasn’t great. We had many of the classics: Back to the Future, Indiana Jones, Gremlins, Ghostbusters . . . As a child, blockbusters were still comparatively rare and were thus an event that had people queuing around the block to see. Heck, even Transformers: the Movie was a big deal!

For all the cheesiness, there was an innocence to the films of the 80s, balanced with the trauma of Viet-Nam lurking in the backgrounds of many of the lead characters. The comedy films were often vulgar and crude, but there wasn’t the ‘knowingness’ in them back then. Now, everything is about referencing something else in popular culture, where the films of that era could be taken at face value.

It was a time where movies could take five years to show up on rental VHS and the domestic sell-thru market basically didn’t exist. For all my insistence on buying everything in HD now, much of my early, most thrilling film experiences were watching movies via a top loader VHS machine. I remember watching Star Trek TMP and getting really fed up of some of the long shots of Vejur’s ship; I wasn’t able to see the tiny Enterprise flying above it, proving some films need to be seen in the cinema. But I’ll never forget watching Raiders of the Lost Ark, TWOK or Tron for the first time on VHS.

I’m in the so-called Oregon Trail generation – the mini-generation from the mid-to-late 70s, falling between Generation X and the Millennials. I used a typewriter as a small child, but also used a computer and learned basic coding. I was really lucky to grow up alongside the computer revolution. In the 1980s, everything seemed possible. Great days; I still feel a great nostalgia for that era.

80s also had HILL STREET BLUES and ST ELSEWHERE, so TV wasn’t the total cheesefest. But I actually didn’t even own a TV for three years during the 80s, and didn’t feel I was missing much.

Carrie Fisher was sadly passed. I know this may not be the place for this but I know several Trek fans like myself are also Star Wars fans. I’m so sad right now. Rest in Peace dear princess.

I am shocked. 60 just does not seem old nowadays…

Watching Star Wars will never be quite the same again…

So glad that somebody posted this.
I am indeed a fan of both franchises.
This is a sad day for us all.

I read about this a little while ago; she left this world way too soon; really, really sad news. Star Trek was one of the first things I every saw when coming to America but I’ve enjoyed Star Wars for years as well; the movies just won’t be quite the same now that she’s gone.

I’m into both franchises in a MAJOR way and this is truly sad news. However, the sad truth is that passings like this one are going to happen a lot in the coming years.

Fitting with the theme of these “age of man” article, it’s definitely true that we as sci-fi fans can look back at about 40-50 years of memorable movie-making and TV installments. The first generation of actors involved in these landmark franchise starters are now approaching an age in which death will be happening to genre on a regular basis, especially since most of the lead actors of these cornerstone installments are well ahead of their 70s…

People like Harrison Ford, Patrick Stewart, William Shatner, David Hasselhof, Ians McKellen and McDiarmid, all early 007 actors are at least 70-85, and lots of Trek cast members – the surviving TOS actors and some older actors of all four spin-offs – are already at an age that might cause some very sad news…

It wasn’t the year 2016 only… it’s the fact that the kids of the 80s and 90s just remember A LOT more actors, musicians etc. than any generation before us. In the 50s and 60s, there were maybe 20 well-known superstars and some B-rated TV stars such as Lorne Greene, but now, there are hundreds of beloved actors from countless movie franchises, cult TV series and of course pop and rock singers of worldwide fame. Most of these phenomena started somewhen in between 1977 (Star Wars) and the early 90s – when Trek took off on TV. So it’s only logical to assume that lots of cinema, TV and music icons will be taken away from us at some point in the not so far away future, especially if you take into account that lots of celebs have led a rather unhealthy life in their 30s and 40s.

That is not to say that each and every loss doesn’t count individually. It’s just going to happen in shorter intervalls and it will be painful for most of us as we’ve grown to identify with these people and their characters to a much greater extend than any generation before us.

R.I.P. Carrie Fisher. You will always be royalty to us. Thank you for Star Wars, The Blues Brothers, Wishful Drinking (I was lucky to see her one-woman show live), your countless movies that you were the script doctor on, and your bravery with your bipolar disorder that gave you a very trying life. The world will not be the same without you.

Join the discussion

A nice tweet from Shatner

I’m deeply saddened to learn of the death of Carrie Fisher. I will miss our banterings. A wonderful talent & light has been extinguished.

Awful news. So glad she got to return to the franchise that allowed her to create the iconic strong female character before the end.

Thankfully, Ms. Fisher wrapped up her scenes for Episode 8, which will be shown next year. Hopefully, the SW franchise people will give an appropriate tribute for her.

Jesus H. Christ. Now Debbie Reynolds has passed away, too.

Glad you included the “Get a Life” skit. Hilarious !!!

Written by “Better Call Saul” star Bob Oedenkirk and the prolific director Judd Apatow, it captured the essence of any “Star Trek” convention.

Steve Gennarelli,

Re: Written by “Better Call Saul” star Bob Oedenkirk and the prolific director Judd Apatow

Bull! It was written by Robert Smigel of Triumph, the insult comic dog puppet fame who ultimately had to coach Shatner on how to say the line properly as Bill had never heard it before!

Just what exactly is your vetting process for the wild claims that you come up with in these comment chains? Wikipedia?

”Robert, however, did fantastically well, writing many of the most memorable sketches of the Downey Jr. through Carvey through Sandler years: The “Cliffhanger” sketch that ended the ’85-’86 season, William Shatner’s “Get a life!” nerd-fest sketch, “The McLaughlin Group,” “Cluckin’ Chicken,” “Da Bears Fans,” and “Schmitt’s Gay Beer.” Beyond the legendary sketches, there are countless super-funny unheralded pieces that would make a boxed set of best-ofs. I was there when he wrote many of these and it was intimidating to observe.” — Bob Odenkirk [WRITER/COMEDIAN],
TALKS WITH Robert Smigel. BELIEVER MAG, May 2009

Thanks for the love, Disinvited…

Hey, if you’re wrong, you’re wrong. Judd Apatow never even worked on Saturday Night Live as far as I can find.

….it should also be acknowledged that ST:TNG was born not only because of the success of the Star Trek feature film franchise, but because the original “Star Trek” from the 60’s had become the most successful 1 hr drama/action adventure series in the history of syndication.
…and Classic Trek was still performing well in reruns in the mid 80’s.

Steve Gennarelli,

Re: Classic Trek was still performing well in reruns in the mid 80’s.

Correct and according to Les Moonves, still is.

Thats the beauty of Trek, all the shows are, even Enterprise. THey are all big hits on sites like Netflix and Amazon and why those companies fight like tooth and nail to keep all of them. Also what gave CBS the idea of putting a new show on its own streaming site in the first place after seeing how well those perform. Star Trek is just a very rewatchable show. Yes TOS is probably the most dated for sure and campy but you can still watch it over and over again.

I just love Star Trek to death. I haven’t gone a week since Beyond opened where I haven’t caught a rerun of any one of the five shows. Star Trek is addicting once you get sucked in.

Dude seriously though, where did you even get that info on SNL?? The other guy said it, Apatow never even worked on the show and yet you cited he wrote that episode directly. Just bizarre.


Re: bizarre

My guess is some source confusing the tv series, GET A LIFE, with the skit which is still bizarre – sort of like claiming Shatner wrote the skit because he wrote a book with the same title.

Love that image of the enterprise being left behind by vGer. Its on of the best images of the enterprise out. I wish it was on a poster. It’s also one of my favorite scenes in the movie. Especially the sound effect as it morph into jerry goldsmiths fanfare.

Such a great moment!

Interesting, no mention of of the original film that turned into Star Trek Phase II and then TMP?

I’m not sure I would bet that Star Trek would not have survived without Star Wars. Clearly the public was ripe for an epic space adventure. Who knows how differently Trek would have turned out had they beat Star Wars to the box office, or how much more successful it would have been? I think it’s wrong to assume Trek would not have been as successful if not more so had Star Wars not come along.

I think if Trek had gotten to screens in 76 or 77 with ANYTHING, that it would have cleaned up like you wouldn’t believe. Always believed that trek and its fans at that point created a primed pump that SW tapped — and tapped — and tapped again.

Looking at the Phase II scripts, I think it more likely Trek would have been one or two seasons and gone, just like Space: 1999.

I’m talking about a feature, not a series. The p2 scripts were a mixed batch, with only a couple ‘winners’ – but we don’t know if Povill & co could have rewritten them into shape (if p2 had had a Gene Coon, miracles would have taken place), and never will.

One thing I’m certain of, is that SW changed the PACE of EVERY action movie that came afterwards (except that snore fest Star Trek, TMP). SW set a frenetic “roller coaster” pace that no action-movie maker dared to ignore. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of ST since 1966 and STILL AM, and I especially loved the 69-to-79 era where there were no canon police around to spoil the fun we kids had just making up new sh!t as we played an drew ST. I loved TMP simply because it was on the big screen. It was only years later did I notice not a whole lot going on there. But ST is probably better-suited for the small screen with LONG story arcs and lots of character development, anyway. I note how the new movie Trek is trending towards comic book themes of super heroes and villains. That’s a shame, compared to the titanic “Geopolitical” struggles going on in DS9 (involving the Federation, the Bajorans, the Cardassians, the Klingons, the Dominion, the Romulans, finally the Breen), with lots of interesting characters getting swept up and swept away by enormous political forces much bigger than any particular hero or villain. I’m reminded of that Bogart line in Casablanca about the problems of three little people not amounting to a hill of beans, compared to “the gathering storm” about to break loose upon the World, where everyone will HAVE TO react to it, putting “self” aside.

So… the next will be “gold-pressed latinum age”, right? In DS9, that was pretty much all they ever talked about: gold-pressed latinum and raktajino. :P

I’d put that as the Fourth Age (DS9/VOY/ENT). Third Age is TNG, the Berman Age. Fifth Age is the Abrams Age.

the 70s to me mean discovering ‘star trek’ in the UK as it made its way to bbc tv alongside ‘dr who’ and ‘blake’s 7’.

first time posting in here in literally years (it looks a lot different, btw).

But, it was during these years that I became a fan, and look at it fondly. Of course, with the announcement of a new Trek film (I was only four years old in 1979), marketing went into overhaul (maybe not as huge as Star Wars did, a couple years earlier). But, I began to watch the episodes, in rerun, with my brother (he was a whole 8 years older than I was – still is, too for some reason).

The one film that I thought was really great and really doesn’t get the love I think it should have is Search for Spock. Sure, TWOK, got the most love of the bunch (still love that one, of course). But, I thought TSFS felt even more like the Trek that I fell in love with a few years prior.